Causes of environmental disequilibrium in Uttarakhand
Research by Dr. Dinesh Joshi
Here I share some important factors which are directly effecting our environment. During my field investigation in kumaun at the time of my PhD work
CAUSES OF ENVIRONMENTAL DISEQUILIBRIUM IN UTTARAKHAND
These are some important causes of the degradation of various ecosystems of the region. The ecosystems like – forest ecosystem, agro-ecosystem, river ecosystem and soil ecosystem etc. in the area under reference have reached at the very crucial stage. The micro-watershed-wise analysis of ecosystems elaborates the fact that the region is under great anthropogenic stress for the last several years. A few main causes are as follows :
1. Expansion of agricultural land through conversion of forest.
2. Reckless fedling of trees.
3. Expansion of road network.
4. Indiscriminate and excessive Grazing.
5. Expansion of settlement zones and development activities.
Expansion of Agricultural Land through conversion of forest : The fast growing population trends in hills, forced the people to convert forest land under cultivation. In reference to Kumaun Himalayan region, the forest areas were converted into farm land in a large scale. The pioneer dwellers of Tarai-Bhabar region of Kumaun converted thousands of acre forest land into agricultural forms. The well stocked forests of Tarai-Bhabar were recklessly destroyed and damaged just like shifting cultivation of the Meghalaya or the north east provinces (Pandey, Prabha, 2002). The official data of the region depicts that a small portion (percentage) of forest is conveted into agricultural farming but it is far beyond the ground reality. During the field investigation it has been observed that more then 28 per cent agricultural land is increased during the last 25 years. The upslope extension of agricultural land has not only promoted the loss of biodiversity but it has also accelerated the pace of soil erosion and landslides. The loss of top layer of soils is one of the prominent problems of the hills
Reckless Felling of Trees :
The reckless deforestation is one of the major problems of the region. A few patches which were once occupied by agriculture, are now left as barren land owing to the loss of soil fertility through soil erosion.
At present these forest lands are incapable of growing crops and are used for growing natural grasses. The forest tree density is decreasing day by day. It shows that the rate of afforestation is much below then the rate of deforestation.
Forest fire is also an important factor for the loss of all forest crops. Forest fires destroy the leaf litters and seedlings on the ground, so that the humus contents of the soil reduce slowly.
Expansion of Road Network :
Expansion of road network is a symbol of developmental activity, but it is another threat to the delicate ecosystem of the region. Road construction activity, which involves blasting of mountains and cutting of forests, causes much damage to the natural environment. Besides, it causes degradation of hydrological cycles and large scale down ward movement of the ruins to river valley.
All these actions put together result in massive and small landslides and increased rate of soil degradation.
Thus the Government should very continues in the construction of new roads especially in erosion prone belt. It is therefore suggested that new roads should be constructed by covering mainly barren land and waste land. Forest land and agricultural land must be saved during the process of road construction. Following this procedure ecological balance may be maintained to some extent.
Indiscriminate and Excessive Grazing : Continuously growing requirements of milk and other dairy products, meat, wool etc. have always promoted livestock farming in the region. Large scale expansion of agricultural activities require more livestock population. On an average 3-5 hectares of forests are required to maintain a single cattle under the existing methods of grazing in the region, where as the actual grazing land available in the Kumaun hills is between 0.8 and 1.5 acres per cattle (Ashish, 1983, 187).
Livestock pressure and excessive grazing on forest and pasture lands is a powerful factor responsible for widespread degradation of forests in the region. It has been estimated that only 40 per cent of the required grazing area is available in the central Himalaya (Melkania et al., 1988) .
Unrestricted, open and free grazing of cattle may be checked by policy measures; and fodder banks may be established to cater the fodder needs of the farmers. Forest department must develop fodder supply zones and proper management method be used to regulate the grazing and consequent damages.
Extension of Settlements Zones and Development Activities : Sumptuous bio diversity and other decisive environmental components of the Himalayan region being severely damaged as a result of increasing population pressure and adverse land usee practices. Almost all the geographical region of the Himalaya have been subjected to distinctive population pressures, over exploitation of biotic as well as abiotic resources,agricultural expansion etc. As the ecosystem of the Himalayan region is very fragile and delicate; change in one natural component goes a long way in transforming all other environmental elements, both biotic and abiotic.
Such activities also accelerate the rate of erosion and therefore the instability of the slopes.
MANAGEMENT FOR ENVIRONMENTAL REGENERATION IN UTTARAKHAND There are several factors influencing the degradation of ecosystem, are fairly well known. Identification of the ecological problems in the hilly region is necessary for the formulation of ecological standards of the area through which an accurate assessment of the ecological situation can be done and action can be taken. Preparation of map showing different ecological components, intensity level etc. through space and time, plays an important role in the proper analysis, decision making and environmental management. Ecological perception and mapping, degradation assessment mapping and zoning of ecologically hazardous areas etc. are the another important necessities for a precise plan workout for the ecologically sensitive areas in the hills. A few measures may be suggested for eco-development and environmental regeneration in this hilly tract. Water Harvesting Technology for Upland Cropping.
The uplands in Kumaun hills have extreme paucity of water specially in the cropping areas that are situated in elevations. Wherever, the forest cover protects the moisture, some springs appear in the low lands and in ravine depths. But the areas which have been deforested and the green cover of the soil is eliminated, the soils have become dry which are unable to sustain crops. Gradually the uplands are going out of the agricultural use for dearth of water. It is known that the rainfall average is quite encouraging in hill areas but the water is drained to the per slopes which also washes away the fertile top soil and the grass-litter of the surface to the valley areas. If the water harvesting technology is applied, a good lot of water received from rain and seasonal springs can be stored for being used in summer towards use by livestock and for irrigation. There have been some efforts on these lines after Third Five Year Plan. The water is channelised to human habitations and agricultural areas by gools and then stored in sizeable cement made storage tanks. If underground storage tanks can be evolved, the rain water harvesting can ensure a dependable source of irrigation for crops.
Solar Energy Utilization Option Some of the hill sides have an extended exposure to sunshine which is usually extra bright in hills due to the clean atmosphere. This energy can be well utilized for various purposes including pumping water from deeper rivers and water storage ponds. The device may be of immense value if the basic infrastructure for exploiting this vast solar energy potential is provided. The cost of the installation of the equipment and the people's education in this regard may be subsidised initially and the continuous research in this regard is likely to bring the costs down in the long run. The Non Government Organizations may pick-up such programmes of experimenting with this in chosen areas and once found feasible it may be extended to other hill areas as well.
Bio-gas Development Strategy The most convenient and cost efficient method of obtaining energy in the rural areas is the device of generating bio-gas. Gobar gas plants have been working quite successfully in the wider plains to cater to the needs of light and cooking. The ordinary cow dung is fed in the plant and with little warmth, the fermentation starts and gas is formed. Some where in hill areas the farmers apply some hot water to quicken the process. Urea mix also helps the process. The cow dung used in these simple bio gas plants can be recycled for farm measuring without any loss of its potential of nitrogen catering. More research is going on these days to refine the technique for greater productivity. The green-leafy materials can also be utilised to form the degraded fermenting material with the dung. Renewable energy sources like photovoltaic winds, bio energy (bio mass) can serve as a good cheap handy instrument for rural development in hill areas. Even the urban wastes which pollute the urban localities everywhere can be cost-effectively used for power-generation besides reducing environmental pollution.
Forest Development Ensuring adequate supply of fuel wood by installing massive energy plantations in, and around the villages can help the cause of meeting rural needs. Modern Silvicultural practices in all waste lands, hill sides, ravines and eroded lands can help the fuel energy supply at a very low cost. The village collaborated efforts can extract ‘Shramdan’ from the village youth if the social forestry is encouraged. The Governments at the centre as well as in states today are increasingly alive to the need to reverse that continued process of deforestation which is the main cause of environmental degradation and has distorted the ecological balance of nature. The real success of an afforestation programme hinges essentially on two principal factors (a) the people’s involvement and (b) the quantum of investment. National Wasteland Development Board has taken up this task in hand at macro level. In Uttarakhand, this task has to be accorded a high priority, to solve the problems like soil erosion, reclamation of marginal lands, high wind velocities in hill areas, shortage of air moisture, pushing up green cover, low rains, shortages of fuel wood timber and other valuable forest products.
Handy Autoploughing and Threshing Devices
Hill areas have quite low width of the terraces and application of tractors, threshers etc. is not possible. The bullock-involve too much of maintenance costs if the size of holding is too small as in the case of the study region. The threshing with bullock power is too strenuous and time-taking. The appropriate technology development for farming operations in hill conditions has not been picked-up for research in proper scale. Autoploughs of very small size partially operated by fuels and partially by human labour need to be developed. Technological change is essential for raising efficiency, lowering the costs and reducing the strain on the already over worked women folk in hill areas.
Reorientation of Planning Process
Policy formation and implementation depends on the stock of our existing knowledge about the working mechanism of ecological system. Greater the depth and accuracy in own knowledge better shall be the scope for policy formation towards environmental protection. Knowledge is obtained and tested to accuracy by environmental research. Environment is the life supporting mechanism spread around the living organism. Life feeds, thrives and grows on the quality of resources and it makes the quality of life for living creative including the plant life. It is a common knowledge that the soil, water, energy, air, the living organism, remnants and minerals are the basic things which afford sustenance to life in all forms. If these erode and exhaust, get polluted, reach the stage of contamination, become increasingly rare, get deteriorated, and degraded, the future of living organism is obviously bleak and miserable. Misery in the form of disease, discomfort, disfiguring, loss of efficiency and capability for dexterity, stemmed growth and adverse effect on temperament and psy-cho pathology of mind are unavoidable. Experience reveals that human interference with eco-system has actually led to enormous loss to the environment and the process continues unabated. Mis management has not only led to degradation and wastage but has also eliminated the rare resources which sustain life. Preservation of Eco-sphere.
Environmentalists, every where, are now worried for preservation of eco-sphere, the living organisms. Policies are emerging stronger to save policy-makers are not so aware about the need to some conditions of life from being polluted, but there is certainly good lot of effort promoted for saving conditions for human life. Efforts to save clean fresh air, potable water, clean living space, fertile soil, useful plant species from extinction, beauty of natural landscape, wild life and rhythm of nature are already or part of environment policy every where. A fallacy still pervades the human mind that the entire nature and its contents are made for the comforts and use by human being, therefore, a lot of injustice is being supported against other forms of life on the earth. Up keep of purity of air, water, soil, plentifulness of life sustaining resources, maintenance of the food chain of ecological system, protection of flora-fauna, integrity of beaches, rivers, forests, soils, is essential to save the real taste of life. This requires the promotion of human awareness and administrative supports. Generation of pro-environment technologies and popularisation of environment friendly forms of production has to be the main line of action.
The trade off between economic production profits and gain, and environmental quality certainly raises situations of contrast and even sacrifice of gains in the short run but in a longer perspective, environment protection as a goal wins. Environment is for all living creatures and economic gains obviously go to individual, groups or nations.
The carrying capacity of environment and its self-recoupment capabilities have to be ascertained and then only the environment consumption policies for regions and areas can be determined. Massive efforts need be made for rectification of the already sceached levels of deterioration in environment. Environment levies have often been resorted to in various industrial policies. Dangerous technologies are being replaced by the new environment friendly devices. The ever increasing trends in : (a) Population and (b) human needs, promoted by consumerism, have together pushed the environment to the present state of degradation. Deforestation in mass-scale without adequate replacement, excessive exploitation of arable soil, air, sea based resources, pollution of air by poisonous gases emitted by factories and vehicles, sky rocketing, heaps of contaminating garbage mercilessly increasing flows of industrial effluents, waste, chemicals, etc in to the river systems, insecticides and herbicides entering the underground water flows, etc. indicate the pattern of human interference with environment. Some of the biotic species are being eliminated, plant life vanishing, the green-house effect is well noticed, widening of hole in ozone layer is well marked, distortion in energy balance in eco-system is identified, temperature levels are growing and snows are melting faster, soil desertification process has grown rapid, and the sea-based life forms are facing danger of being eliminated. These trends hint for the urgent action by human race to save the environment, from being inhospitable to living organism. Environmental disaster also pushes up social pollution and emergence of deadly diseases like AIDS, cancer, tuberculosis, gastroentritis, eye diseases etc. skin diseases are by far more common now due to environmental deterioration. It is widely noticed that excessive run off losses of soil in denuded slopes, Hill areas and such other locations have driven the inhabitants to other areas in search of land. Drinking water everywhere is getting rare and precious. Underground water is receding and deepening due to excessive drilling by pumps and tubewells. The water replenishment in the underground layers is not being attempted in adequate measure because water available from downpour runs off before absorption in the soil. Evaporation of water reduces water in water bodies. Unless a vast afforestation drive cover the soil by a green cover, the seepage to deeper layers of soil shall remain difficult and tube wells shall not get adequate water. The recharging mechanism of underground water table has to be understood to restore eco-system. The purification and filtering of dirty water and its recycling for various uses needs attention of policy makers. Cost effective methods of purification, filtering, and treating water need attention of the scientists.
WATERSHED DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY
Watershed development strategy of rural development has paid dividends in areas where these were applied. The catchment areas of water sources need proper planning for conservation. The discharge of water sources may be kept running if the catchments are well dressed with green cover. The approach emphasizes physical boundaries rather them administrative boundaries for making units of development administration. Management of surface water can improve the texture of soil, raise moisture, replenish underground water and keep the greenary. It is experienced that such strategy helps the physical productivity, improves cropping pattern, and ensures efficient use of land resource as well as of water. It raises fodder, fuel foliage, firewood as well as fruits and vegetables. For ready hand illustration, we can see achievements in Gulberga, Bijapore, Bellary, and in Dharwad districts of Karnataka, how the yields of Sorghum, finger millets, and peanuts rose phenomenally by application of watershed projects. In Banglore also the yields have gone up quite encouragingly. We know that a watershed is a geographical unit over land drainage that contributes water to a flowing stream. There may be six main kinds of watersheds identifiable by their nature of water feed to the fributaries of the river system.
(1) Primary rivers discharging their load to sea and covering more than one lakh hectare area as its watershed.
(2) Tributary to primary river having drainage area more than 40 thousand hectares.
(3) Tertiary tributary to secondary tributary having catchment of areas less than 40 thousand hectares but more than 4 thousand hectares.
(4) Quaternary streams having watershed areas extending over 2 to 4 thousand hectares.
(5) Pentad stream contributing to quaternary having watershed of 400 to 2000 hectares.
(6) Hexad stream, tributary to pentad having less than 400 hectares of watershed area.
Watershed may be regrouped and divided in sub-categories for the benefit of micro-planning, catchment or sub catchments are the fields of drainage contributing to still bigger sub-system. There may be one or more than one sub-areas which feed the main. Mini-watershed is a drainage area of pentad spreading over more than 400 hectares as drainage area. The watershed development projected cover the programmes of soil and water conservation, land use, cropping choice, cropping practices, agro-practices, rehabilitation of degraded lands, erosion control, afforestation planning, shrub, grass and leguminous fodder growth. A complete mapping and survey of socio-economic status is necessary to implement this strategy of resource planning. Aspirations, needs, nature, habits and conventions of the population in the area are also well coordinated with the production plans of watershed areas. These care to cater to the fuel needs, fodder needs, energy needs, water needs, crop-choices, and orchard needs of people. These plans provide for development and rehabilitation of waste lands, grazing land, farm-woodlots, querrying areas, and the community forests etc. An extended sound green cover ensure good lot of water seepage feeding the underground pool. Great successes were recorded in watershed projects of Maheswaran (Audhra), Kabbal Nala (Karnataka), Manoli (Maharashtra), and Purua Nala of Madhya Pradesh. These developed new crop package plans, water harvesting techniques, silvipasture, agro-forestry, agro-horticulture, and ecology stabilisation. Hirakud catchment area experience proved highly encouraging. These developed deep forest zones, Green cover zones, residential greenary and rotational cropping zones in the entire catchment areas. In Himalayan tracts like Sai Watershed, Similar advances can be expected after the plans are executed.
Himalayan Watershed Management Project the only major research project of its kind financed by the World Bank, has introduced low cost land use changes to ensure higher return on the area, less erosion, reducing flood potential and winning local support for forest management and environmental protection. Soil conservation work is also undertaken in similar pattern by the Agriculture Department. In Panar river catchment, the watershed development project has shown considerably good performance. Afforestation work is shown as done under developmental schemes like NREP, RLEGP, DPAP, DRDA, and other specific schemes. The erosion control has been attempted by building embankments and flood control devices on sides of the turbulent rivers. The primary functions of forest eco-systems are mainly three;
(a) Maintaining ecological balance to ensure environmental stability;
(b) Protection of land and soil against being swept away by rains, floods, or other reasons;
(c) Preservation of ‘Natural Heritage’ of the region, its fauna and flora, the repository of wide range and variability of ‘gene pool’.
The plan strategy of environmental protection of Himalaya emphasized on stabilizing soil, afforestation, flood control, farm forestry, social forestry, accessibility growth by roads, and the winning of mass cooperation in favour of environmental up keep. Nearly 107 crores rupees have been spent for soil stabilisation alone.
Bio-gas development can help reducing burden of catering fuel wood on forests. The methane gas for fuel is being served in urban areas. Bio-gas is a centrally sponsored scheme and is run by the Rural Development Department. The Seventh Plan envisaged and out lay of Rs. 40.29 crores for installing 10500 bio-gas plants in Uttarakhand.
Development of new and renewable sources of energy like solar, wind, and micro-hydel are deemed essential for Kumaun Hills so that the drain on forests is reduced considerably. The solar cookers, solar water heaters, solar still and solar desalination apparatus, solar timber seasoning, solar grain dryers, solar power cold storage, solar thermal power generators, solar furnaces, and solar photo voltaic systems are being introduced in Uttarakhand under the Ninth and Tenth Plans. Besides undertaking massive afforestation programmes, stress is now being laid on multi storeyed forests. Energy plantations are being encouraged. Smokeless chulhas and economy chulha have been distributed besides the solar cookers, solar heaters and solar lights. Cultivation of new species of grasses, fodder, herbs and medicinal oil plants is being encouraged. Forest department is to take up schemes for developing open-managed pastures, conservation of soil and water by minor catchment area management has been taken up. Educational curricular are revised to incorporate the environmental dimension of education. The marginally productive agricultural land and waste lands are to be planted with fuel producing trees in large scale. Thus, there is little more consciousness now emerging at official levels for the protective of environment.
The Government has been alert and its policies are designed to resettle the lost forests by plantations. Several crores of rupees have been pumped by Govt. for plantations, protection of forests, soil conservation, and water conservation.
The way out today is to build a faithful task force to set the forest robbers right. Actually nobody is punished for even serious crimes if criminals associate themselves with political parties. Provision of subsidised fuels, fodder, etc to local people can help the vast drain on forests but for this step the exchequer would not agree. Every hike on cooking gas drive customers to forests to fetch fuel free of cost. Cheap electricity for fuel may be one of the steps to save forests and the environment. Biotic pressure on forests has been growing and replenishment pace is marginal. On the excuse of silvicultural fellings very large lots of timber trees are put to fellings with connivance of officials. Due to this, there has been a ban on silvicultural fellings as well for quite a few years. This has wasted the timber in forests which could fetch revenue. Infact, forest administration is more or less a misnomor and does not infact, exist. Solution, therefore, lies in mass-support and public participation. The problem of ecological and environmental protection is closely linked with the efficiency of the administration and will power of the governing politicians.